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Chowdown Showdown: Sweet and Sour Chicken More than a McNugget

Patch writer Rob Gryder tries some exciting Asian cuisine.

Classically, I have little attachment and received small enjoyment from Chinese food. I remember Plano’s Far East Restaurant had a very salty cheeseburger when I was a little guy. Before taking a wife, I’d once dated a girl who loved her some crab rangoon. It wasn’t long until I got into crab rangoon.   

I eventually realized that child-me had predisposed adultified-me to be cautious with Asian food, even though everything I’d ever tried – I’d enjoyed.  

So we’re really going to go crazy this week and take advantage of the fact that Yorkville now boasts three non-sushi  Asian-cuisine outlets (I don’t know you but you’re beautiful, ). I’m going to expand my horizons and try something new. Brace yourselves, forks and spoons, and make ready for this week’s review… chicken nuggets?  

 

China Garden

Let me first say that I love walking in to China Garden. Something about the way the counter is set up, with the bright fluorescent menu buzzing overhead and the stainless steel kitchen with its glass-doored cooler up front. It just feels very – New Yorky? I don’t know, but their crab rangoon was my inaugural crab rangoon, so I was enthused to be there.  

The sweet-and-sour chicken is essentially 30-ish chicken nuggets. There was a bowl of white rice. There was a dish of sauce (be prepared to spend around 8 bucks). I sat in silence and gazed at the servings, whilst summoning child-me for a look at what amounted to a better version of the glorious McNugget.   

I don’t mean to demean the dish by calling them nuggets, when so clearly they are cubes. Golden and tender with a nice thin breading and a good taste of that white meat. The sauce was beautiful in presentation, opaque pinkish-red; but was only sweet. I only tasted sweetness. Brother sour must have been out back grabbing a smoke.

China Garden Good: You get an insane amount of delicious white meat chicken for your money, and it’s texturally pleasant and tasty.
China Garden Bad:
I really did want my mind blown with a new experience and was disappointed by the lack of any unique, new, or interesting flavors from the dish as a whole.  

 

Everyone I talk to about food asks: “Have you been to Chopstix yet?” 

Now I have. They really have the place gussied up. It’s a different, almost quaint, vibe compared to the previous two restaurant/bars to use the space. None of the patrons were using straws. They had the tried-and-true plastic tablecloth covers.  

Chopstix isn’t Chinese, but Thai-Vietnamese-Chinese fusion. They do have sweet-and-sour chicken, though, and this was an experience. This was something I hadn’t had before.  

The dish is presented with a more appropriate serving of chicken, and a number of yummy steamed vegetables. The chicken is a little more accurately cubed in shape, and I’m wondering if they don’t hand-cube their own. The breading was a little darker, thicker, and tastier than China Garden’s version.  It just looked colorful, and carefully prepared. The vegetable blend made it interesting – something I hadn’t had before. 

Oh, and their sweet and sour sauce is made in-shop. You could tell. It was delicious, and I first understood “and-sour.” I’m thinking vinegar, but I have no idea. It was subtle, and I enjoyed the little extra complexity. 

Chopstix Good: A proper dish, carefully prepared with a little more dietarily-sound list of ingredients.
Chopstix Bad: Their hours. They’re there from 11-2 Tuesday through Friday, and then they’re there again at 4. I arrived at 3 p.m. on my first try.

 

OK, in hindsight throwing a buffet in to the Showdown crucible – no matter the style of cuisine – probably isn’t very fair to the buffet. It occurred to me when I first grabbed my plate that I’m not going to have much to talk about as far as the way the dish is made, because I made it myself. Which I had no problem doing because I’m a wizard and a boss. 

So the chicken here was remarkably similar to China Garden’s. Nearly identical. Good chicken taste, again. Fine breading, perhaps a little less delicate than China Garden’s. The sweet-and-sour sauce was the standard red, only-sweet kind again.  

Kind of a let-down, though I had at my disposal 30+ items with which to supplement my serving. My wizardry and bossing created much deliciousness, but it ended up not being from the sweet-and-sour chicken offering.      

Joyce Lee Good: Go nuts. It’s a buffet. You’ll find plenty you’ll like. 
Joyce Lee Bad: It’s a buffet. It’s designed for people to go nuts. They prepare foods for a wide audience to like.  

And the winner is… If you’ve looked at the pictures or read the article, you’ll understand why Chopstix is the hands down winner. The dish gave me something I hadn’t had before. The sauce was interesting. The food and the experience gave me more to think about than did the other two. 

They’re a friendly lot down there, too. Check ‘em out.

debbie anaya August 23, 2011 at 01:31 PM
sorry, but i think the sweet and sour chicken at chopstix is awful. there is so little chicken in it. i expect chunks of white meat chicken, deep fried. i got deep fried batter with minute pieces of mystery chicken, i actually had to search for the chicken pieces. the sauce was also terrible, unlike any i've ever had and it smelled of ketchup. i feel bad for chopstix being such a bad restaurant because the people who work there are super nice. i think many yorkville residents must agree with me because chopstix is always dead when i drive by, and i drive by alot because i live around there.
pumpkin patch August 23, 2011 at 08:58 PM
Oh my gosh...again the winner of this showdown should be none of these places!
Mobichobael September 15, 2011 at 10:20 PM
Debbie, nobody asked what your intake on this was. Are you a regular? There are always people here at night! Did you even go during a time that the restaurant was open..? Chopstix is a GREAT place to eat.My family & I eat there all the time! Did you get the right Chopstix because there are other Chopstix restaurant's in the area. If Chopstix is such a bad restaurant then why would they win this!? They just beat every other Asian restaurants in Yorkville. People come from other towns just to eat at Chopstix. Get it straight Debbie... Their sauce is very tasty and does NOT smell like ketchup. DEUCES!

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